DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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It Was Ever Thus
by Paul Walker

When Moses stood on the brink of the Promised Land he divided the land equally among the people. According to Leviticus Chapter 25 he also proclaimed that a Jubilee Year would take place every fifty years. Every Jubilee the land was to be divided up again equally between everyone. His aim seems to have been to prevent anyone becoming extremely rich at the expense of the poor.

Most scholars judge that the Jubilee Year was never actually observed by the Hebrew people.

Centuries later the prophet Isaiah recalled the Jubilee Year. He called it "the year of the Lord�s favour" (Isaiah 61.2). He saw it as good news for the poor. He imagined that when the Hebrew people returned from exile in Babylon the land would once more be equally divided between everyone.

Most scholars think that Isaiah�s hopes were never fulfilled.

The author of Luke�s Gospel portrays Jesus as quoting the above passage from Isaiah (Luke 4.19) as be began his ministry. Jesus seems to have been greatly affected by issues of wealth and poverty. For example, he told a rich young man to give all he possessed to the poor (Mark 10.21). Matthew reports Jesus as saying that genuine riches ("treasure in heaven") depend upon how we treat the hungry, the naked and those in prison. Jesus told his followers to take nothing with them for the journey (Mark 6.8).

In line with the vision of Jesus in the gospels, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that some early Christians

� had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as they had need � no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. (2.44-45 & 4.32)

This aspect of Christianity seems to have died an early death. When Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, only a few retained the idea. By then the practice of holding a common purse applied only to monastic communities.

This thread of faith running through the Bible has much in common with a political ideology we have heard little of recently. Yet Karl Marx could almost have been quoting Acts when he said

To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities.

The French social theorist Pierre Proudhon wrote in his pamphlet What Is Property? that "All property is theft." To some he might have been recapitulating the idea from the Pentateuch that no human can be said to personally own land.

Having pointed out all this, I don't want anyone to get me wrong. No rational person would wish to see the Soviet Union as it was under Stalin as a model for society. But the problem is that Stalin�s Russia has long been used by those who oppose the redistribution of wealth as evidence that this strategy cannot work.

However, since the Berlin Wall between East and West Germany fell, an increasingly wide gap has opened up between rich and poor. Simultaneously, religious fundamentalism has stepped into the ideological vacuum left by the demise of Marxism.

Worse than that, the idea that human nature will not allow for a redistribution of wealth seems to have been widely accepted. Witness Christian communities calling for a fairer share of resources in South America being viciously criticised by both the United States government and the Vatican.

I can only conclude that those who criticise people for wanting greater economic equity are also those who benefit most from the present unfairness.

It was ever thus. I can imagine on whose side Jesus would have been.

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